THE BIG STORY

Why many student leaders fail and why you(rs) don’t have to

Why many student leaders fail and why you(rs) don’t have to

October 14, 2014

Have you ever experienced this? It is the end of the semester, and the leadership of your organization is getting ready to graduate. What you do not realize (and maybe you do) is that all of the knowledge, successes, and failures that they have accumulated will also be graduating with them and little to no information will be passed down to the next generation of leaders. Sadly, this happened to me.

I became the President of the Marketing Society and I was so excited to lead the group toward a great year. The excitement began to decrease a little as very important questions begin to arise. Questions like, “Why don’t we have any money,” and “Where is our bank account,” and the ever-pressing question of “What did we do last year?”  This post is designed for people like you and me who want to make sure that next year is better for the next group of leaders. It is a little secret from the corporate world called SUCCESSION PLANNING.

During my leadership presentations I ask a simple question, “How many of your organizations have an effective succession plan?” All across the country from community colleges to Ivy League schools, from fraternities and sororities to student government associations, about 90-95% of student leaders admit to not having effective succession plans, if they have succession plans at all. The following three areas will help you begin the journey of making sure next years leaders are more prepared than this years.

Before the Leadership Transition:

During the tenure of the current leaders they must empower others to take their place. They should find others who are interested in their role and are interested in being leaders/officers and give them assignments to familiarize them with some of the leadership tasks (i.e. running a meeting, chairing a project, hosting an event, etc.). It’s better they experience this before the leadership leaves.

During the Leadership Transition:

Have clear objectives for the transition and create a plan that includes a timeline for effective succession, shows the information transfer meetings between the old and new leadership, and time for the outgoing leaders to write a letter to the incoming leaders which should include their success, failures, and overall what they wish they would have known when they started. This should be more than here you go “have fun!” Trust me, it happens!

After the Leadership Transition:

There is one organization at the University of Pittsburgh that has a no senior policy for the President. Can you guess why? They have the senior serve as an advisor to the incoming President so that growth is not lost in transition. Even if you are unable to do this, a great principle can still be used. Do all you can to set the expectations that the former leaders will continue to serve as advisors for the new group of leaders, if they cannot agree to this then they should not be leaders in the organization.

Without effective succession plans we are setting up our new leaders to fail. Let’s take a page out of Apple’s book (not the bent one) and make sure our organization does better after a leader has transitioned. After all, isn’t leadership about growth anyway?

Credit // Author: Justin Jones-Fosu


Justin has great strategies for leadership success. He speaks on a variety of topics but always challenges students and staff to ACTion. When you bring Justin to your campus, you will always get an exciting keynote full of high-energy, humor and practical lessons for success.

Check out campuspeak.com/jones-fosu to see Justin’s popular Leadership Keynote (Be an ACTion HERO: The ACTions of Super Successful Student Leaders) that includes information on succession planning and Justin’s research on what separates average student leaders from those that are super successful.